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Full text of "The battle of Franklin"

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THE BATTLE OF FRANKLIN. 



BY CAPTAIN JOHN^ K. SHELLENBERQER. 

e4TH OHIO INFANTRY. 



PAJPER READ BEFORE MINNESOTA OOMMANDERY OF" 
THE tiOYAHj LEGION U. S. DECEMBER 9th, 1902. 



.6'Z 



THE BATTLE OF FRANKLIN. 

BY CAPTAIN JOHN K. SHELLENBERGER, 

64th OHIO INFANTRY, 

(Read December 9th, 1902.) 



Anything concerning the battle of Franklin coming my 
way has always been devoured with a greedy interest, and 
because of this interest, I have given fully ten times more 
research to this battle than to any other in which I was en- 
gaged. On account of the open character of the battle field, 
the limited area which was fought over, and my presence 
in the midst of that area, the leading features of the battle 
came under my personal observation, but wherever that 
observation was wanting for giving a clear account I have 
supplied the deficiency with information gathered from 
other reliable sources. 

I was commanding Company B, Sixty-fourth Ohio regi- 
ment, Conrad's brigade. Wagner's division, Fourth corps. 
Wagner's division was the rear guard on the retreat to 
Franklin, and about mid-forenoon of November 30th, 1864, 
arrived on top of the Winsted Hills, two miles south of 
Franklin. Halting there long enough to snatch a hasty 
breakfast the division then hurried into battle line to delay 
the columns of the enemy, in close pursuit, by compelling 
them to deploy. The position was held as long as possible 
without bringing on a battle and then Wagner began to 
retire slowly towards Franklin. The town lies nestled In a 
little valley in a bend of Harpeth River. A stand was made 
to get the artillery and the long wagon train over the river 
and while our commanding general, Schofield, was giving his 



personal attention to the facilities for crossing, the main 
body of the army, under the supervision of General Cox, was 
engaged in establishing our defensive line, which stretched 
across the river bend, in the arc of a circle, inclosing the 
town. As fast as the troops arrived and were placed in 
position they hurried to cover themselves with breastworks, 
and by the time the enemy was ready to attack. Cox's line 
was well intrenched. The train got over the river in time for 
the troops to have crossed before the enemy appeared, but the 
opportunity thus offered for securing a much stronger de- 
fensive position, with the river in front instead of in rear, 
was not improved. 

By one o'clock Wagner had fallen back so close to Cox's 
line that he began a movement to withdraw his division be- 
hind that line. Conrad's brigade had been called in from 
the left flank and was marching in column of fours along the 
Columbia pike, with the head of column approaching the 
breastworks, when Wagner received an order from Schofield 
to take up a position in front of Cox's line. In obedience to 
this order Conrad counter-marched his brigade a short dis- 
tance and then deployed it in a single line of battle, having 
a general direction nearly parallel with Cox's line. Five of 
the six regiments composing the brigade were posted on the 
east side and one on the west side of the pike 470 yards in 
advance of Cox's line, as measured along the pike. Lane's^ 
brigade, following Conrad's, was posted on Conrad's right. 
Lane's line trending backward on the right in general con- 
formation with Cox's line. When General Hood assaulted, 
Conrad's five regiments east of the pike proved to be in the 
direct pathway of his assault and they were overwhelmed 
before the line west of the pike, which was greatly refused 
as to that pathway, became fully engaged. When Opdycke's 
brigade, the last to withdraw, came up to the position oc- 
cupied by Conrad and Lane, Wagner rode forward and or- 
dered Opdycke into line with them. Colonel Opdycke stren- 

I. 

A)''H<)r. 



uously objected to this order. He declared that troops out 
in front of the breastworks were in a good position to aid 
the enemy and nobody else. He also pleaded that his bri- 
gade was worn out, having been marching for several hours 
during the morning, while covering the rear of our retreating 
column, in line of battle in sight of the enemy, climbing over 
fences and passing through woods, thickets and muddy corn- 
fields, and was entitled to a relief. While they were discuss- 
ing the matter they rode along the pike together, the bri- 
gade marching in column behind them, until they entered the 
gap in the breastworks left for the pike and finding the 
ground in that vicinity fully occupied by other troops they 
kept along till they came to the first clear space which 
was about 200 yards inside the breastworks. There Wag- 
ner turned away with the final remark, "Well, Opdycke, 
fight when and where you damn please; we all know you'll 
fight." Colonel Opdycke then had his brigade stack arms 
on the clear space, and his persistence in thus marching his 
brigade inside the breastworks about two hours later proved 
to be the salvation of our army. 

When Conrad's brigade took up its advanced position 
we all supposed it would be only temporary, but soon an 
orderly came along the line with instructions for the com- 
pany commanders and he told me that the ordeu were to 
hold the position to the last man, and to have my sergeants 
fix bayonets and to instruct my company that any man, not 
wounded, who should attempt to leave the line without or- 
ders, would be shot or bayonetted by the sergeants. 

Four of Conrad's regiments, including the Sixty-fourth 
Ohio, had each received a large assignment of drafted men 
so recently that none of these men had been with their regi- 
ments more than a mouth and many had joined within a 
week. The old soldiers all believed that our harsh orders 
were given for effect upon these drafted men for we never 
before had received any such orders on going into battle. 

3 



We then began to fortify. On the retreat that morning 
we had passed an abandoned wagon loaded with intrenching 
tools, and by order each company had taken two spades 
from the wagon, the men relieving each other in carrying 
them. These spades were the only tools we had to work 
with. The ground we occupied had been frequently camped 
on by other troops who had destroyed all the fences and 
other materials ordinarily found so handy in building hasty 
breastworks, so that on this occasion our only resource was 
the earth thrown with the few spades we had. Under the 
stimulus afforded by the sight of the enemy in our front 
preparing for attack the men eagerly relieved each other in 
handling the spades. As soon as a man working showed the 
least sign of fatigue a comrade would grab the spade out 
of his hands and ply it with desperate energy, but in spite of 
our utmost exertions when the attack came we had only suc- 
ceeded in throwing up a slight embankment which was high 
enough to give good protection against musket balls to the 
men squatting down in the ditch from which the earth had 
been thrown, but on the outside, where there was no ditch, it 
was so low that a battle line could march over it without 
halting. We were out in a large old cottonfield not under 
cultivation that year. The ground ascended with an easy 
grade from our position back to Cox's line, and all the in- 
tervening space, as well as a wide expanse to our left, was 
as bare as a floor of any obstruction. In our front was a 
wide valley extending to the Winsted Hills. This valley was 
dotted with a few farm buildings, and there were also some 
small areas of woodland, but much the greater portion of it 
consisted of cleared fields. As our line was first established 
the 65th Ohio was on the left of the brigade, but it was 
afterwards withdrawn, leaving the 64th Ohio on the left 
and three companies, H, K and B, were partially refused to 
cover the left flank. My position was at the refused angle. 

About the time that we began to fortify my attention 



was called to a group of mouuted officers in a field on the 
side of the Winsted Hills, to the east of the Columbia Pike, 
and about a mile and a half in our front. This group un- 
doubtedly consisted of General Hood and his staff. An 
officer who was present with Hood has stated that from 
their position they had a good view of Cox's line and that 
after giving this line a hasty survey through his field glass 
General Hood slapped the glass shut Vvith an emphatic ges- 
ture and decisively exclaimed, ''We will attack." Staff offi- 
cers then began to gallop forth from the group v/ith orders 
for the troops to form for assault. At the angle where I 
was our view of the valley directly in our front and to our 
right was shut off by a piece of woodland a short distance 
in advance of our position, so that we did not see anything 
of the movements of Cheatham's corps, which formed astride 
the Columbia pike. But looking up the valley to our left 
front was a wide expanse of cleared fields and in these fields 
we plainly saw the movements of a large part of Stewart's 
corps. They first came into view from behind a body of 
timber over towards the river, deploying from column on the 
right by file into line on double quick. As fast as the troops 
could be marched up from the rear Stewart extended his 
lines over towards the pike. We could see all their move- 
ments so plainly while they were adjusting their lines that 
there was not a particle of doubt in the mind of any man 
in my vicinity as to what was coming, and the opinion was 
Just as universal that a big blunder was being committed in 
compelling us to fight with our fiank fully exposed in the 
midst of a wide field, while in plain sight in our rear was a 
good line of breastworks with its flank protected by the 
river. The indignation of the men grew almost into a mu- 
tiny and the swearing of those gifted in profanity exceeded 
all their previous efforts in that line. Even the green drafted 
men could see the folly of our position, for one of them said 
to me, "What can our generals be thinking about in keeping 

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us out here. We can do no good here. We are only in the 
way. Why don't they take us back to the breastworks?" 

The regiment contained a number of men who had not 
re-enlisted when the regiment had veteranized and whose 
time had already expired. They were to be mustered out 
as soon as we got back to Nashville and with home so nearly 
in sight after more than three years of hard service these 
men were especially rebellious. First Sergeant Libey of Com- 
pany H, was a non-veteran, and was also a fine specimen, 
mentally and physically, of the best type of our volunteer 
soldiers. When the enemy was approaching he twice got 
up from the line and started for the breastworks, vehemently 
declaring that he would not submit to having his life thrown 
av/ay, after his time was out, by such a stupid blunder. The 
little squad of non-veterans belonging to the company both 
times got up and started to go with him and both times 
they all returned to the line on the profane order of their 
captain, "God damn you, come back here." A" few minutes 
later the sergeant was killed while we were retreating to the 
breastworks. 

It took two hours, from two till four o'clock, for the 
corps of Cheatham and Stewart to come up and get into 
position and then they advanced to the assault in heavy 
lines of battle. We kept the spades flying until they had 
approached within range of our skirmish line, which fired a 
few shots and then began to retreat rapidly. Then the 
spades were dropped and the men taking their muskets 
squatted down behind the low streak of earth they had 
thrown out to receive the coming onset. A little later Com- 
pany E, from the skirmish line, came scurrying back, the 
men, with a very serious look on their faces, settling down 
with the line like a covey of flushed birds dropping into 
cover. 

All that has been related concerning Conrad's brigade 
took place in full view of that part of Cox's line extending 

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from the river on our left to the Columbia pike, and if there 
had been any previous doubt in the minds of any of these 
on-looking thousands as to Hood's intention, his determina- 
tion to assault was as plainly advertised as it possibly could 
be during the intense minutes that it took his army to march 
in battle line from the place of its formation to our advanced 
position. General Cox has claimed that Wagner's division 
was ordered to report to him and that he was in immediate 
command of all the troops engaged in the battle. By his own 
statement he was on a knoll in rear of Stiles' brigade, on the 
left of his line, where he had the best view of the whole field. 
From this knoll he had been watching the preparations for 
attack, and all the time directly under his eyes was Con- 
rad's brigade busily engaged in fortifying to resist that 
attack. If Wagner was disobeying his orders by remaining 
in front too long, as was given out a few days later when 
he was made a scapegoat for the blunder of his position. 
Cox was watching him do it and took no measures to pre- 
vent it. If it was Cox's expectation that Wagner would 
withdraw the two brigades at the last moment he must have 
known better when he saw Conrad's brigade squat down be 
hind their half-built breastwork preparatory to giving battle. 
There was even then time, if prompt action had been taken, 
for a staff officer to gallop to the front, before the firing be- 
gan, with a peremptory order for Conrad and Lane to get out 
of the way, but Cox, fresh from a personal conference with 
Schofield, to whom he had reported the situation and whose 
orders he then received with reference to holding the posi- 
tion, looked quietly on and thereby approved of Wagner's 
action. 

It was a pleasant, hazy, Indian summer day, and so 
warm that I was carrying my overcoat on my arm. When 
the line squatted down I folded the coat into a compact 
bundle and placing it on the edge of the bank in rear of my 
company and sitting on it, with my feet in the shallow ditch. 



by craning my neck, could look over our low parapet. The 
battle was opened by a rebel cannon, which, unnoticed by us, 
had taken position on a wooded knoll off our left front over 
towards the river. The first shot from this cannon flew a 
little high directly over the angle where I was sitting. The 
second shot dropped short, and I was thinking with a good 
deal of discomfort that the third shot would get the exact 
range and would probably lift some of us out of that angle, 
but before it came our line had opened fire on the approach- 
ing rebel line and I became so much interested in that fire 
that I never knew whether there was any third shot from the 
cannon. 

Our fire checked them in front for they halted and be- 
gan to return it, but for a minute only, for, urged on by 
their officers they again came forward. Their advance was 
so rapid that my company had fired only five or six rounds to 
the man when the break came. The salient of our line was 
near the pike and there the opposing lines met in a hand-to- 
hand encounter in which clubbed muskets were used, but 
our line quickly gave way. I had been glancing uneasily 
along our line, watching for a break as a pretext for getting 
out of there, and was looking towards the pike when the 
break first started. It ran along the line so rapidly that it 
reminded me of a train of powder burning. I instantly 
sprang to my feet and looked to the front. They were coming 
on the run, emitting the shrill rebel charging yell, and so 
close that my first impulse was to throw myself flat on the 
ground and let them charge over us. But the rear was open 
and a sense of duty, as well as a thought of the horrors I 
had heard of rebel prisons, constrained me to take what 1 
believed to be the very dangerous risk of trymg to escape. 
I shouted to my company, ''Fall back! Fall back!'' and gave 
an example of how to do it by turning and running for the 
breastworks. As the men were rising to go the rebels fired, 
but so hastily and with such poor aim that their fire did not 

8 



prove nearly so destructive as I had feared. Probably the 
most of their guns were empty, although I did not think so 
just then. The range was so close that it seemed bullets 
had never before hissed with such a diabolical venom, and 
every one that passed close by made a noise like it was big 
enough to tear your body in two if it should hit you. I had 
forgotten my overcoat, but had run only a rod or two when 
I thought of it and stopped and looked back with the in- 
tention of returning to get it, but the rebels then appeared 
to be as close to the coat as I was and very reluctantly, for 
it was a new one, I let them have it. After running a few 
rods farther I again looked back. They were then standing 
on the low embankment we had left, loading and firing at 
will, but just as I looked some of their officers waved their 
swords and sprang forward. The fire then slackened as they 
started in hot pursuit to get to the breastworks with us. 

Our men were all running with their guns in their 
hands which was good evidence that there was no panic 
among them. While knapsacks or blanket rolls were fre- 
quently thrown away I did not see a single man drop his 
gun unless hit. The cry of some of our wounded who went 
down in that wild race, knowing .they would have to lie 
there exposed to all the fire of our own line, had a pathetic 
note of despair in it, I had never heard before. A rebel ac- 
count has stated that the next morning they found some ot 
their dead with their thumbs chewed to a pulp. They had 
fallen with disabling wounds and the agony of their helpless 
exposure to the murderous fire from our breastworks, which 
swept the bare ground where they were lying, had been so 
great that they had stuck their thumbs in their mouths and 
bit on them to keep from bleating like calves. Many of the 
bodies thus exposed were hit so frequently that they were 
literally riddled with bullet holes. 

Our men were nearly all drifting towards the pike as if 
with the intention of entering the breastworks through the 

9 



gap at the pike. But I reasoned that the hottest fire would 
be directed where the biggest crowd was, and I veered off 
the other way in an effort to get away from the crowd. 
While running rapidly with body bent over and head down, 
after the involuntary manner of men retreating under fire, I 
came into collision with a man running in a similar attitude, 
but headed towards the gap. The shock was so great that 
it knocked him down and pretty well knocked the wind out 
of me. Just as we met a rebel shell exploded close over our 
heads and as his body was rolling over on the ground I 
ca.ught a glimpse of his face while upturned and in its hor- 
rified look read his belief that it was the shell that had hit 
him. The idea was so comical that I had to laugh, but my 
laugh was of very brief duration when I found myself so 
nnch disabled that I was rapidly falling behind. With 
panting lungs and trembling legs I toiled along, straining 
every nerve to reach the breastwork, but when it was yet 
onlv a few steps away, even with life itself for the staked, 
' could go no farther, and thought my time had come. My 
brave mother, the daughter of a soldier of 1812 and the grand 
daughter of a Revolutionary soldier, when I had successfully 
appealed to her pride in her military ancestry, and she had 
consented to my enlistment had said, "Well, if you must go, 
don't get shot in the back." I thought of her and of that 
saying and faced about to take it in front. While I was 
slowly turning my eyes swept the plain in the direction of 
the pike. There were comparatively few of our men in my 
immediate vicintiy, but over towards the pike the ground was 
thickly covered with them, extending from the breastworks 
nearly a hundred yards along the pike, and in some places 
so densely massed as to interfere with each other's move- 
ments. The fleetest footed had already crossed the breast- 
work and all those outside were so thoroughly winded that 
none of them could go any faster than a slow, labored trot. 
The rear was brought up by a ragged fringe of tired strag- 

10 



glers who were walking doggedly along, apparently with as 
much unconcern as if no rebels were in sight. The rebel 
ranks were almost as badly demoralized by pursuit as ours 
by retreat. Their foremost men had alread} overtaken oui 
rearmost stragglers and were grabbing hold of them to de- 
tain them. 

But my attention was quickly so intently riveted on the 
nearest rebel to myself that in watching him I became obli- 
vious to all the other surroundings for I thought I was look- 
ing at the man who would shoot me. He was coming di- 
rectly towards me, on a dog trot, less than fifty yards away, 
and was in the act of withdrawing the ramrod from the 
barrel of his gun. When this action was completed, while 
holding the gun and ramrod together in one hand, he stopped 
to prime and then, much to my relief, aimed and fired at a 
little squad of our men close on my right. He then startea 
to trot forward again, at the same time reaching back with 
one hand to draw a fresh cartridge. By this time I had 
rested a little and looked back over my shoulder towards the 
breastwork. I then noticed that there was a ditch on the 
outside and the sight of this ditch brought renewed hope. 
With the fervent prayer, into which was poured all the in- 
tense longing for more life natural to my vigorous young 
manhood, "O, God, give me strength to reach that ditch," I 
turned and staggered forward. I fell headlong into the ditch 
just as our line there opened fire. The roar of their guns was 
sweeter than music and I chuckled with satisfaction as I 
thought, "Now, rebs, your turn has come and you must take 
your medicine." I lay as I fell panting for breath, until I 
had caught a little fresh wind and then began to crawl 
around to take a peep and see how the rebels were getting 
along. When my body was lengthwise of the ditch I hap- 
pened to raise my head and was astounded by the sight of 
the rebels coming into the ditch between me and the pike, 
the nearest of them only a few yards away. They were so 

11 



tired that they seemed scarcely able to put one foot before 
the other and many of them stopped at the ditch utterly 
unable to go a single step farther until they had rested. It 
was only the strongest among them who were still capable 
of the exertion of climbing over the breastwork, and if the 
men behind that work had stood fast not one of those tired 
rebels would ever have crossed that parapet alive. Trans- 
fixed with amazement I watched them until the thought 
flashed into my mind that in an instant some of their com- 
rades would come in on top of me and I would be pinned 
down with a bayonet. The thought of a bayonet thrust was 
so terrifying that it spurred me into a last effort, and with 
the mental ejaculation, "I never will die in that way," I 
sprang on top of the breastwork. Crouching there an instant 
with both hands resting on the headlog, I gave one startled 
look over my shoulder. The impression received was that if 
I fell backward they would catch me on their bayonets. 
Then followed a brief period of oblivion for which I cannot 
account. With returning consciousness I found myself lying 
in the ditch on the inside of the breastwork, trampled under 
the feet of the men, and with no knowledge whatever of how 
I got there. It is possible that I was taken for a rebel when 
I sprang up so suddenly on top of the breastwork and that 
I was knocked there by a blow from one of our own men. 
I was lying across the body of a wounded man who had 
been hit by a bullet which, entering at his cheek, had passed 
out the back of his head. He was unconscious, but still 
breathing and the breast of my coat was smeared with the 
blood from his wound. The press was so great that I could 
not get on my feet, but in a desperate effort to avoid being 
trampled to death managed in some way to crawl out be- 
tween the legs of the men to the bank of the ditch, where 1 
lay utterly helpless with burning lungs still panting for 
breath. My first thought was of the rebels I had seen cross- 
ing the breastwork, and I looked toward the pike. I Mad 

12 



crossed our line close to a cotton gin that stood just inside 
our works and the building obstruced my view except di- 
rectly along the ditch and for a short distance in rear of it. 
Our men were all gone from the ditch to within a few feet 
of where I was lying and a little beyond the other end of 
the building stood two cannon pointing towards me with a 
group of rebels at the breech of each one of them trying to 
discharge it. They were two of our own guns that had been 
captured before ever they had been fired by our gunners and 
were still loaded with the double charges of canister intended 
for the rebels. Fortunately the gunners had withdrawn the 
primers from the vents and had taken them along when they 
ran away and the rebels were having difficulty in firing the 
guns. As I looked they were priming them with powder 
from their musket cartridges, and no doubt intended to fire 
a musket into this priming. Just then I was too feeble to 
make any effort to roll my body over behind the cover of the 
building, but shut my eyes and set my jaws to await the out- 
come where I was lying. After waiting long enough and the 
cannon not firing I opened my eyes to see what was the mat- 
ter. The rebels were all gone and the ditch was filled with 
our men as far as I could see. If the rebels had succeeded 
in firing those two cannon they would have widened the 
breach in our line so much farther to our left that it might 
have proved fatal, for the two brigades holding our line, 
from the vicinity of the cotton gin to the river, had each but 
a single regiment of reserves. The men in the ditch at my 
side when I first saw the cannon, were so busily engaged in 
keeping out the rebels who then filled the ditch on the other 
feide of the parapet, that I do not believe they ever saw the 
two cannon posted to rake the ditch, and their conduct was 
most gallant. 

For a brief period the rebels held possession of the in- 
side of our breastworks along the entire front of Strickland's 
brigade on the west side, and of Reilly's brigade down to 

18 



the cotton gin on the east side of the pike, and the ground 
in their possession was the key to Cox's entire position. 
This break in our line was identical in extent with the front 
covered by the great body of Wagner's men in falling backfs^ 
it was occasioned by the panic and confusion created by 
Wagner's men in crossing the breastworks. Cox's men, along 
this part of our line, seem to have lost their nerve at the sight 
of the rebel army coming and on account of their own help- 
less condition. They could not fire a single shot while Wag- 
ner's men were between themselves and the rebels and the 
first rebels crossed the breastworks side by side with the last 
of Wagner's men. 

At some point a break started and then it spread rapidly 
until it reached the men who were too busily occupied in 
firing on the rebels to become affected by the panic. Op- 
dycke's brigade was directly in rear of where this break oc- 
curred. At the sound of the firing in front, Opdycke had 
deployed his brigade astride the pike, ready for instant ac- 
tion, and as soon as he saw that a stampede was coming from 
the breastworks, without waiting for any order, he instantly 
led his brigade forward. Charging straight through the 
reat, after a desperate hand to hand encounter in which 
Opdycke himself, first firing all the shots in his revolver and 
then breaking it over the head of a rebel, snatched up a 
musket and fought with that for a club, his brigade restored 
the break in our line. It is true that hundreds of brave men 
from the four broken brigades of Conrad, Lane, Reilly and 
Strickland, who were falling back, when they met Opdycke's 
advancing line and understood that the position would not 
be given up without a desperate struggle, faced about and 
fought as gallantly as any of Opdycke's men in recovering 
and afterwards in holding our line, but if Opdycke's brigade 
had not been where it was, the day undoubtedly would have 
closed with the utter rout and ruin of our four divisions of 
infantry south of the river. When General Cox met 

14 



Opdycke on the field immediately after the break was re- 
stored he took him by the hand and fervently exclaimed, 
^'Opdycke, that charge saved the day." 

The front line of Strickland's brigade extended along the 
foot of the garden of Mr. Carter, the owner of the plantatioQ 
on which the battle was fought. The reserve line was posted 
behind the fence at the other end of the garden, close to the 
Carter residence, where the ground was a little higher, and 
65 yards in rear of the main line. This reserve line, with the 
fence for a basis, had constructed a rude barricade as a pro- 
tection against bullets which might come over the front line. 
When Opdycke's demi-brigade, charging on the west side of 
the pike, came to this barricade, it halted there, probably 
mistaking it for our main line. The rebels in the garden fell 
back behind the cover of Strickland's breastwork and during 
the remainder of the battle, on this part of the field, the op- 
posing lines maintained these relative positions. Every at- 
tempt made by either side to cross the garden met with a 
bloody repulse. The body of one dead rebel was lying be- 
tween the barricade and the Carter house and this body no 
doubt indicated the high water mark reached by Hood's as- 
sault. It is only fair to the gallant rebels who penetrated 
our line to state that Opdycke's charge was made too prompt- 
ly to give them any time to recover their wind, and that 
tlierefore in the hand to hand struggle, they were laboring 
under the great disadvantage of the physical fatigue already 
described. 

Returning to my personal experiences, when I had rested 
enough to be able to sit up I found at my feet a can of coffee 
standing on the smouldering embers of a small camp fire, 
and beside it a tin plate filled with hard tack and fried bacon. 
Some soldier had just got ready to eat his supper when he 
was hastily called into line by the opening of the battle in 
front. I first took a delicious drink out of the cofifee can 
and then helped myself to a liberal portion of the hard tack 

16 



and bacon, and while sitting there eating and drinking in- 
cidentally watched the progress of the fighting. By the 
time I had finished I was so fully rested and refreshed that 
thereafter I was able to shout encouragement to the men 
fighting in my vicinity as loud as any other company com- 
mander. Along that part of the line only the breastwork 
separated the combatants. On our side we had five or six 
ranks deep composed of the original line, the reserves and 
Conrad's men, all mixed up together without any regard to 
their separate organizations. The front rank did nothing 
but fire. The empty guns were passed back to those in rear 
who reloaded them. The rear rank was kneeling with gun» 
at a ready. If a rebel raised his head above the breastwork, 
down it would instantly go with one or more bullets through 
it fired by these rear rank men. In this close fighting the ad- 
vantage was all on our side for our front rank men, stand- 
ing up close against the perpendicular face of the breastwork 
on our side, could poke the m.uzzle of a gun over the headlog 
and by elevating the breech could send a plunging shot 
among the rebels who filled the outside ditch and expose for 
an instant only the hand and a part of the arm that dis- 
charged the gun. But on account of the convex face of the 
work on their side the rebels could not reach us with their 
fire without exposing themselves above the breastwork. They 
kept up the vain struggle until long after dark, but finally 
elevated their hats on the ends of their muskets above the 
breastwork, as a signal to us, and called over that if we 
would stop shooting they would surrender. When our firing 
then ceased many of them came over and surrendered, but 
many more took advantage of the darkness and of the con- 
fusion created by their comrades in getting over the breast- 
work to slip back to their own lines. Soon after the firing 
had ceased the 64th Ohio reformed its broken ranks a few 
steps in rear of the breastwork and just east of the cotton 
gin. I did not learn all the facts that night, but when they 

16 



came out later it transpired that every man in my company, 
save one, who had escaped the casualties of the battle, fell 
into line. A |1,000.00 substitute had fled to the tov^^n where 
he hid in a cellar. He went to sleep there and awoke the 
next morning inside the rebel lines. He was sent south to a 
prison and when returning north after the close of the war 
lost his life in the explosion of the Steamer Sultana. 

I had lost my overcoat, but had never let go the grip 
on my sword. Some of my men had dropped their knapsacks 
or blanket rolls, but every one of them had his gun and 
cartridge box. They were all in high spirits over their own 
escape and over the part they had played in the final repulse 
of the rebels, and were talking and laughing over their 
various adventures in the greatest good humor. The con- 
dition of my company was typical of the condition of all the 
other companies in the regiment as I saw while passing 
along the line inquiring into the fate of brother oflScers and 
other friends. I also learned in a conversation the next day 
with Major Coulter, who had been my old captain, and who 
was acting that night as assistant adjutant general of the 
brigade, that every other regiment of the brigade had re- 
formed in rear of the breastwork in the same way as the 64th 
Ohio, and that the brigade as an organization, had marched 
from the vicinity of the cotton gin v/hen the order to retreat 
was executed that night. I never heard from any source 
any intimation contrary to the truth as I have stated it until 
I read in 1882, with the most indignant surprise, in Cox's 
book on this campaign, then recently published, his statement 
that the brigades of Lane and Conrad rallied at the river but 
were not again carried into action. When Cox made that 
statement he was more concerned in patching up that fatal 
gap in the battle line of his own command without any out- 
side assistance, than he was in ascertaining the truth, and he 
took that way to dispose of two entire brigades. In his first 
official report, for he made two reports, Cox went to the 

17 



other extreme for he then stated that on the approach of the 
enemy the two brigades in front had retired in a leisurely 
manner inside his line. "Leisurely," is so good in that con- 
nection that it always brings a smile whenever I recall the 
"leisurely" manner in which Conrad's brigade made its way 
back to Cox's line. 

Soon after the regiment had reformed one of the drafted 
men of my company was brought in from the ditch outside 
mortally wounded. No doubt he had reached the ditch in 
too exhausted a condition to climb over the breastwork and 
had lain out among the rebels where he had been repeatedly 
hit by our own fire. The pain of his wounds had made him 
crazy, for he would not talk, but kept crawling about on all 
fours moaning in agony. There were a few men missing 
from the company of whom their comrades could give no 
•account and moved by the fate of the drafted mar, I crossed 
the breastwork to search outside if perchance I might find 
one or more of the missing ones lying there wounded and 
bring them aid. I went to a gun of the 6th Ohio battery, 
posted a short distance east of the cotton gin, to get over, 
and as I stepped up into the embrasure the sight that met 
my eyes was most horrible even in the dim starlight. The 
mangled bodies of the dead rebels were piled up as high as 
the mouth of the embrasure, and the gunners said that re- 
peatedly when the lanyard was pulled the embrasure was 
filled with men, crowding forward to get in, who were liter- 
ally blown from the mouth of the cannon. Only one rebel 
got past the muzzle of that gun and one of the gunners 
snatched up a pick leaning against the breastwork and killed 
him with that. Captain Baldwin of this battery has stated 
that as he stood by one of his guns, watching the effect of its 
fire, he could hear the smashing of the bones when the mis- 
siles tore their way through the dense ranks of the approach- 
ing rebels. 

While I was cautiously making my way around one 

18 



side of that heap of mangled humanity a wounded man lying 
at the bottom, mth head and shoulders protruding, begged 
of me for the love of Christ to pull the dead bodies off him. 
The ditch was piled promiscuously with the dead and badly 
wounded and heads, arms and legs were sticking out in 
almost every conceivable manner. The ground near the 
ditch was so thickly covered with bodies that I had to pick 
my steps carefully to avoid treading on some of them. The 
air was filled with the moans of the wounded and the plead- 
ings of some of those who saw me for water and for help 
were heartrending. While walking along towards the pike 
to get in the pathway in which my company had come back 
T passed two rebel flags lying on the ground close together. 
It did not occur to me that I would be entitled to any credit 
for picking up the flags under such circumstances, but 1 
thought that if I did not find what I was looking for I would 
return that way and take the flags in with me. I had passed 
on a few steps when I heard a man behind me exclaim, "Look 
out, there!" and thinking he meant me I turned hastily and 
saw him pitch the two flags over the breastwork. I presume 
that the men inside the work who got possession of the flags 
were afterwards sent to Washington with them and possibly 
may have got medals for their capture. I felt so uneasy 
while outside lest the rebels should make some movement 
that would start out line to firing again that I kept close to 
the breastwork, and as it was soon manifest that the chances 
in the darkness of finding a friend where the bodies were so 
many was too remote to justify the risk I was taking, I re- 
turned within our line. 

From what I saw while outside I have always believed 
that General Hood never stated his losses fully. Those 
losses were in some respects without precedent in either 
army on any other battle field of the war. He had five gen- 
erals killed, six wounded and one captured inside our breast- 
works, and the slaughter of field and company officers, as 

19 



well as of the rank and file, was correspondingly frightfuL 
It was ofificlally reported of Quarles' brigade that the rank- 
ing officer in the entire brigade at the close of the battle was 
a captain. Of the nine divisions of infantry composing 
Hood's army, seven divisions got up in time to take part in 
the assault and at least six of these seven divisions were as 
badly wrecked as was Pickett's division in its famous charge 
at Gettysburg. 

Our loss was officially stated as 2326 men and almost 
the whole of it was due to the presence of the two brigades 
in front of the main line. Casement's brigade, to the left of 
Reilly's, sustained a very determined assault which was re- 
pulsed with a loss of only nineteen men in Casement's bri- 
gade. But the action of Casement's men was not hampered 
by the presence of any of Wagner's men in their front and 
they could open fire as soon as the rebels came within range. 
If the brigades of Reilly and Strickland could have opened 
fire under the same conditions they would have done just as 
well as Casement's brigade. A critical investigation of our 
losses will conclusively demonstrate that at Franklin the 
violation of the military axiom never to post a small body or 
troops in a way to hamper the action of the main body, was 
directly responsible for the unnecessary loss of more than 
2,000 of our soldiers. That was the frightful butchers' bill 
our army had to pay because of an inexcusable blunder. 

How was it possible for veteran generals of the Atlanta 
campaign to make such a gross blunder? 

In his official report Cox states that at two o'clock the 
enemy came into full view and that he reported that fact and 
the position of the two brigades in front of his breastworks 
to Schofield, and received his orders with reference to hold- 
ing the position, but he does not state what those orders 
were. Cox made that report and received those orders in a 
personal conference with Schofield when they must have ful- 
ly discussed the situation, and Cox's peculiar statement in 

20 



this connection seems to carry a covert threat, as if he had 
said to Schofield, *'If you attempt to hold me responsible for 
the blunder I will tell what those orders of yours were." 

In a written account furnished me by Captain White- 
sides, Wagner's Assistant Adjutant General, he states that 
about half past two o'clock Wagner ordered him to see 
Colonel Lane and find out what was going on in his front. 
From his position on the pike at the gap in the breastworks 
Wagner could see for himself Stewart's corps forming in 
Conrad's front, as already described, but his viev/ of Lane's 
front was obstructed by the large number of trees and by 
the inequalities of the ground on the west side of the pike. 
Colonel Lane told Whitesides that Hood was forming his 
army in battle order and that without any doubt it was his 
intention to attack in force; that the position occupied by 
the two brigades was faulty, being without any support on 
either flank, and unless they were withdrawn they would be 
run over by the enemy or compelled to fall back to the 
breastworks under fire. On reporting Lane's statement to 
Wagner Whitesides was directed to find General Stanley, 
the corps commander, and tell him what Lane had said. He 
found Stanley with Schofield at the house of Dr. Cliffe in 
the central part of the town, where they could see nothing 
of what was going on in front, and reported to them as 
stated above. He then returned to Wagner who received 
no orders after this that he knew of. 

The report of Cox and the statement of Whitesides in- 
dicate that both Cox and Wagner believed that Hood in- 
tended to attack but that neither of them would take the re- 
sponsibility, with Schofield in easy communication, of with- 
drawing the two brigades from the position to which they 
had been assigned by his order without his sanction. They 
reported to him the situation and then waited, and waited 
in vain, for him to take action. 

In a personal interview Dr. Cliffe told me that Schofield 

21 



came to his house about nine o'clock for breal?fast and after- 
wards kept his headquarters there until the battle began; 
that after breakfast he retired to a bed room where he slept 
until noon or shortly after; that a short time before the bat- 
tle began Cox was there in conference with Schofleld and 
staff oflScers kept coming and going until the fighting be- 
gan; that Stanley was there with Schofield and they were 
waiting for their dinner; that they told him there would be 
no battle that day because Hood would not attack breast- 
works but that after dinner they would ride on to Nashville 
together and the army would follow after dark. 

Stanley and Cliffe had been school boys together in 
Wayne county, Ohio, and as Cliffe was a well known Union 
man and it was supposed to be unsafe for him to remain in 
Franklin he was invited to accompany Schofield and Stanley 
on their ride to Nashville. General Schofield has claimed 
that he scored a great success in his campaign against Hood 
and that this success was largely due to his intimate knowl- 
edge of Hood's character, gained while they were classmates 
at West Point, which enabled him to forsee what Hood 
would do and then make the proper dispositions to defeat 
him. At Franklin he relied so confidently on his ability to 
foretell what Hood's action would be that he not only wholly 
neglected to give any personal attention to the preparations 
for assault which Hood was making in plain sight of our 
front but he would not give any heed to the reports brought 
him by those who had seen these preparations. It was his 
belief, based on his intimate knowledge of Hood's character, 
that Hood was making an ostentatious feint to mask his real 
intention of executing a flank movement, for in a telegram 
to General Thomas, dated at three o'clock Schofield informed 
Thomas that Hood was in his front with about two corps and 
seemed prepared to cross the river above and below. 

He has tried to escape all personal responsibility for 
the blunder by the weak statement that he was across the 

22 



river when the battle began. Even if that statement were 
true, and it is directly contradicted by the disinterested state- 
ment of Dr. Ciiflfe as well as by an abundance of other re- 
liable evidence, both direct and circumstantial, there is no 
possible escape for Schofield from the inexorable logic of the 
situation. For two hours Hood was engaged in prepara- 
tions for assault in plain sight of thousands of our soldiers. 
What was Schofield doing those two hours? If he saw any- 
thing of Hood's preparations he showed incompetence by his 
failure to promptly withdraw the two brigades from the 
blundering position to which he had assigned them. If he 
saw nothing of Hood's preparations, it was only because of 
a criminal neglect of his duty at a time when the perilous 
position of his army, with a greatly superior rebel army in 
its front and a river at its back, demanded his utmost Vig- 
ilance. 

It was said that General Stanley was sick but he spent 
the day with Schofield and he also, having had West Point 
experience of Hood's character, concurred fully in Schofield's 
belief that Hood would not assault. So great was their de- 
lusion in this respect that it would not be shaken by the re- 
ports made by their subordinates, and nothing short of the 
loud road of the opening battle was able to arouse them into 
giving any personal attention to the situation. Then at last, 
when it was too late to do anything to remedy a blunder 
which already had gone so far that it must go on to its full 
culmination, Schofield and Stanley left the house of Dr. 
Cliffe. Stanley hurried to the front which he reached just 
as Opdycke's brigade was starting forward. Spurring his 
horse to the front of this brigade he personally led it in its 
famous charge. A little later his horse was shot under him 
and he got a bullet through the back of his neck as he was 
rising to his feet. It was a flesh wound that bled freely, 
but Stanley declined to leave the front until after the fight- 
ing was all over. He then went to the rear to have his 

23 



wound dressed and after his departure Cox was the senior 
general on the battle field. 

When Stanley started for the front Schofield started for 
the rear, and the most charitable construction that can be 
placed upon his action, is that he interpreted the sound of 
the firing to mean that the expected flank movement had be- 
gun and that his duty called him across the river to provide 
against that flank movement. His disturbed mental condi- 
tion at that time is disclosed by the fact that he abandoned 
in the room of Cliffe's house where he had slept, his over- 
coat, gloves and a package containing the official dispatches 
he had received from General Thomas. These articles were 
not reclaimed until our army returned to Franklin after the 
victory at Nashville and in the meantime Mrs. Cliffe saved 
the coat from being taken by some needy rebel by wearing 
it herself and she also safely kept the gloves and dispatches. 

After crossing the river Schofield rode to the fort that 
had been built the year before on the high bluff which formed 
the north bank. From this elevated position he had a good 
view of a large part of the battle field and the heavy guns in 
the fort were engaged in firing on the nearest flank of the 
enemy, but he was not only well beyond the range of every 
rebel bullet that was fired, but he was also so far away hj 
the road which a staff officer must ride down the bluff to a 
bridge and thence through the streets of the town to com- 
municate with the firing line.that he was wholly out of touch 
with the troops that were fighting the battle. His presence 
in the fort had no more to do with the repulse of Hood's as- 
sault than if he had been the man in the moon looking down 
upon the battle field. The only order that he sent from the 
fort was the order to retreat after the army had won a great 
victory, ¥/hen this order reached Cox he made a manly 
protest against it. He explained the wrecked condition of 
the rebel army to the staff officer who brought the order, and 
giving his opinion that retreat was wholly unnecessary he 

24 



urged the officer to return to Schofleld and persuade him to 
countermand the order. He also sent his brother, Captain 
Cox, of his own staff, to remonstrate with Schofield, and to 
say that General Cox would be responsible with his head 
for holding the position. When Captain Cox reached the 
fort he found that Schofield already had started for Nash- 
ville. The Captain hurried in pursuit and overtaking Scho- 
field on the pike and delivering his message, was told that 
the order to retreat would not be recalled and must be exe- 
cuted. In Wagner's division we had been marching, or forti- 
fjdng, or fighting for more than forty hours continuously, 
and believed that we had reached the limit of human endur- 
ance, but we stil had to plod the eighteen weary miles to 
Nashville before getting any rest.. 

In January, 1865, Schofield, with the corps that he was 
then commanding, was transferred from Tennessee to North 
Carolina. When he passed through Washington en route 
he had the opportunity of giving to President Lincoln a per- 
sonal account of his campaign in Tennessee. The President 
must have known in a general way, that at Franklin the 
rebel army had made a very desperate assault which had 
been most disastrously repulsed, but he certainly was ignor- 
ant of the details of the battle, and in the absence of any in- 
formation to the contrary his natural inference would be 
that Schofield, as our commanding general, was entitled to 
great credit for that repulse. At that time the truth con- 
cerning Schofield's connection with the battle, which leaked 
out slowly, was known to a few men only and those who 
would have exposed Schofield's pretensions, if they had had 
any knowledge of what he was claiming, were all far away 
in Tennessee. The character of the ex parte claim for dis- 
tinguished services rendered by Schofield in the battle, 
which he succeeded in impressing upon "Honest Old Abe," 
may be fairly inferred from the very extraordinary promo- 
tion over the heads of many able and deserving officers given 

26 



to Schofield, from Captain to Brigadier General in the regu- 
lar army, to date November 30, 1864, with a brevet as Major 
General "for gallant and meritorious services in the battle 
of Franklin, Tennessee." 



As much of tlie/TOil^Hig/ monograph on the Battle of 
Franklin as the time limit imposed would allow was read by 
my brother, Companion George H. Shellenberger, at a meet- 
ing of the Minnesota Commandary of the Loyal Legion held 
in Minneapolis Dee. 9th, 1902. The paper was written after 
an exhaustive investigation which was begun many years 
ago and as I had no friend to protect and no enemy to perse- 
cute among the generals engaged in the battle the truth ha^^ 
been told without fear or favor. 

The battle opened with a disgraceful and costly blun- 
der which should have been investigated by a court of in- 
quiry but a few days later General Wagner, the junior in 
rank_and the weakest in influence of the generals implicated, 
was relieved of the command of his division with the state- 
ment that the blunder was due to disobedience of orders by 
him and with this action the matter was hushed up. 

I have no personal grudge against General Schofield. 
whose obstinate reliance on his ability to fortell what Gen- 
eral Hood intended to do was the prime cause of the blun- 
der. My feeling towards him is the same that any honor- 
able soldier will experience when he becomes convinced th it 
an unmerited promotion has been obtained by dishonorable 
methods. If any reader doubts the accuracy of the account 
of Schofield's relation to the battle herein given let him go 
to Franklin and look the battlefield over. A very brief in- 
vestigation, if sincere, will then satisfy him that the blunder 
described could not possibly have happened if Schofleld had 
been attending to his duty intelligently and that his personal 
conduct that day was not only the reverse of meritorious 
but was wholly wanting in any element of gallantry. 

In 1890 the National Tribune published an article on 
the Battle of Franklin, written by me and containing in 
much greater detail the charges against Schofield which are 

27 



made in this article. Among the many letters then received 
I have one from General Stanley in v^hich he expresses his 
amazement at the accuracy with which I had told the truth. 
There is not a particle of doubt about Captain Whiteside's 
having reported to Schofield the statement of Colonel Lane 
which is quoted. If Schofield had given to that report the 
attention which its importance demanded he would have 
remedied the blunder he made when he ordered Wagner's 
division to the position occupied by the two brigades before 
any evil results had happened. 

In his book, "Forty-six Years in the Army," while de- 
voting many pages to self laudation and defense of his con- 
duct of the Franklin campaign, Schofield has not one word 
to say in explanation of his failure to give any per- 
sonal attention to the very extraordinary situation which at 
Franklin developed right under his nose, so to speak. His 
audacity in claiming the credit for the victory when he was 
in Washington soon after the battle was fought and there 
learned that the Administration was ignorant of its details 
was a brilliant stroke of genius of its kind but not such 
genius as any lover of his country will wish to see encouraged 
in the ambitious young officers in our army. Was it for the 
meritorious services he rendered by sitting idly in Cliff's 
house and utterly ignoring the reports coming to him of 
Hood's preparations for assault during the two hours that it 
took Hood's army to come up and get into position, and for 
the gallantry he displayed in crossing the river as soon as 
the fighting began, thereby abandoning to his subordinates 
the conduct of the battle, that Schofield claimed the promo- 
tion he got? If he had been accorded the reward which his 
conduct that day so justly merited it would have come in 
the verdict of a court martial such as he declares in his book 
ought to have been given to Wagner, Lane and Conrad: 
"According to the established rules of war these three com- 
manders" — and Schofield and Cox — "ought to have been 

28 



tried by court martial and, if found guilty, shot or cashiered 
for sacrificing their own men and endangering the army." 
If any of the blame belonged to General Stanley it was 
washed out gallantly with the blood of his wound. 



29 



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